The Storm

 

Previously: The Calm

If this is his idea of keeping me calm, it's a miserable failure, Zahra scowled. She rose and called for a bath. The tub was smaller this time, and the water lukewarm. She decided it would be best to return to the bath house and would have to convince her husband of the same.

She yawned, dressing in her usual clothes and heading out to work. She didn't feel like working today; she felt oddly out of sorts, uneasy in an unfamiliar way. She paused, wondering she had any special cravings and made a mental note of her last menstrual cycle.

Well...at least we know it's not that. She'd been taking herbs to ensure she didn't get pregnant any time soon, but she could have forgotten at some point. A part of her wondered if she and Roggvir could even have children. What if bringing him back from the dead had taken away his ability to give life? She'd read such myths before.

After the bath she knew better than to order breakfast, so instead she walked the city, waiting for the market to open. It was an admittedly beautiful day in Markarth; the fogs that usually plagued the city had drifted on, and the skies were unusually clear. She felt warm sun on her face, and it was good.

I still don't want to live here.


She'd might reconsider if the Stormcloaks were roundly beaten and driven from the Reach. But then that raised new questions. What would happen to the Silver-Bloods? Would they be stripped of their wealth and lordships? And what would happen to Roggvir for supporting them? Would he be arrested and beheaded...again?

Or worse, could he live in a city when his heroes were defeated? Would he even want to live at that point? They'd have to go back to working, probably twice as hard as before. There would be no title of Thane for him after supporting traitors, no great halls or riches. Would such a life be enough?

Her troubling thoughts chased all hunger from her stomach, so instead she decided to go to work earlier than usual. She hoped Bothela had more stories. Zahra decided she liked Bothela's stories.

***


The next couple of days passed quietly enough; Zahra busied herself with work as usual, but that only occupied her so much. Restless, she went for a walk in the middle of her shift and found herself at the stall of a Redguard jeweler. 

Though tempted to shop for trinkets, she resisted.

"Weeks in this city and she finally stops at my stall," mused Kerah, the merchant. "But the question is, will she buy?"

"I'm afraid not, Kerah," Zahra smiled sadly. "My husband and I are trying to buy a house, and it's everything I can do to keep him from spending it on mead."

Kerah laughed. "Reminds me of when my husband and I were just starting out. If it's any consolation, it does get better, especially after the first child is born."

"I certainly hope so," Zahra sighed. "But right now, I'm just hoping mine will settle for less dangerous work."

Kerah was sympathetic. "They'll be back soon. Thongvor is a great warrior, as are those who usually accompany him."

Yes, but my husband is not, Zahra cringed. On the one hand, she didn't want him to embarrass himself out there. She envisioned him tripping over his own feet or displaying his dreadful lack of skill at archery in front of all those hardened fighters.

On the other hand, maybe it was just the thing to get him back to smelting or mining or apprenticing with a blacksmith. Anything that would bring him back inside these walls.

She eventually returned to the Hag's Cure to finish out her shift before going home. When she arrived at the Silver-Blood Inn, she felt a hush descend on the whole building. As she approached her room, she realized Vorstag had returned and was warming himself by the fire.

"Vorstag," she greeted cheerily, looking about the main hall, "where's my husband? I hope he didn't embarrass me too much out there."

The sellsword stared back at her, and behind her, Zahra noticed the other patrons weren't talking either. The inn staff seemed extra busy with their tasks, despite the inn being a little emptier than usual, and then she noticed she hadn't gotten a reply.

"Vorstag," she repeated, "...where's my husband?"

The tall, long-haired Nord rose to his feet. He breathed deeply, shoulders rising and falling, as though choosing his words carefully. He opened his mouth to speak. Her heart hammered when he closed it instead.

"If you're going to tell me my husband stabbed himself in the foot, or that one of the Forsworn shot in him the arse, then just say so," she snapped suddenly. "I know he's no great warrior, and maybe this will teach him once and for all, but I need you tell me that he's fine." Her voice shook. Her body trembled. And her eyes were wild.

"My lady--" he began.

"Save that nonsense for Betrid fucking Silver-Blood - Vorstag, where's my husband?"

Her shrill tone stilled everyone around her. Everyone stopped moving, stopped breathing it seemed. They stared at her as though she were a mad woman, with both a mix of sympathy and a hint of fear. The tall sellsword finally opened his mouth once more, but Zahra had already decided he was useless. She spun on her heels instead, exiting the inn with only one thought: just give me his body and I will bring him back.

This time, she would tell him the truth. She would bring him back and tell him the truth, beginning with what really happened in Solitude and why he could never go home. He might curse her, he might never forgive her, but he'd be alive. They could finally leave Markarth and start over somewhere else, somewhere small and distant and quiet, away from the troubles of the world.

They could even leave Skyrim.

Just give me his body and I'll bring him back.

It was the only thing holding her together. Zahra walked swiftly, effortlessly crossing the city and climbing the stairs to the Jarl's palace. She couldn't even hear the rushing of the waterfalls around her. All she could hear was the pounding of her own heart, all the way up to Understone Keep.

She knew he'd be there, even at this late hour. It was said Thongvor stalked the halls from dawn 'til dusk, though to no avail.


"Thongvor, where's my husband?"

She hadn't meant to bellow into the dark halls of the Keep, but her mouth seemed to have its mind own. She was sweaty from the brisk walk, eyes ablaze with fury. She didn't even notice the guards drawing their weapons, or that Thongvor gestured for them to stand down.

The tall balding Nord turned to her, slowly cautiously. "My lady--"

"Stop calling me that!" she shrieked, fully unhinged now. "What have you done with my husband?"

"My lady, he fell," Thongvor replied, trying to maintain control of the situation. "In the caves of Blind Cliff."

Zahra paused briefly, confused, her mind whirling and trying to latch onto the first shred of hope. "You're saying he tripped?" Because he would do that.

"An arrow in the back," the nobleman clarified gently. "And then another in his neck. We were only expecting six or so Forsworn, based on our intelligence. There were far more than that."

Zahra's eyes finally welled up with tears. She struggled to breathe. "He is dead?" she rasped hoarsely.

"He died almost instantly," Thongvor tried to assure her. "He didn't suffer."

Her whole body trembled violently. I brought him back from a beheading, she reminded herself, in a desperate attempt to calm down. Arrows will be nothing.

"Where is his body?" she demanded, her voice still hoarse.

Thongvor shook his head. "There was no time to retrieve him. We would have been overrun."

Zahra found her voice again. "So you just left him there?" She pictured her husband lying on a cave floor, cold and alone as he bled out into the dark.

In Solitude, he died bravely, with conviction, and his family nearby. I found him. I tended him. I fixed his body, brought his back his soul, gave him comfort.

But this time...he was alone. Far from home, surrounded by useless men, dying for nothing.


Thongvor gestured to a priest standing nearby, whom Zahra hadn't even noticed. "The priests of Arkay will engrave a stone in his honor at the Hall of the Dead," he promised. "I assure you--"

"You think I give a damn about honor or monuments?" she roared him at him. "This is your fault! You and that fur-clad barbarian you would call High King!"

Shocked silence filled the dark entrance of Understone Keep. Thongvor stared at her, appalled, eyes wide.

"How...dare you," he rasped dangerously. "Do you know who--"

He was quickly silenced by the sound of cackling. Everyone was looking down now at her hands, at the pure blue sparks of lightning threatening to explode. And everyone, even Thongvor, took a step back.

"You're all the same," Zahra spat. "You're all such great leaders, filling people's heads with stories and nonsense, then letting young men - poor men - die for you, while you go home to your estates and palaces. At least the Emperor has a real army!"

Thongvor turned and started walking away, back towards the throne room, while the priest of Arkay and the palace guards stood tense, wondering what she would do next. Luckily for them, they were the furthest thing from her mind.


"I can't wait for the Imperial Legion to arrive in Skyrim!" she yelled after Thongvor. "I hope they rip right through your unwashed hordes!"

***

She didn't remember how she got back to the inn, only that she did. The patrons quieted upon her arrival, watching her as she walked back to her room in a daze.

Numb, she sat on the bed of stone, that horrible bed she'd willingly slept on, if it meant getting to sleep next to him.

Things had been improving, she thought to herself, staring at the fire. We weren't bickering over money, the tension was easing...I was starting to fall deeper for him.

Now I'm alone. Again.

Zahra burst into tears, her sobs deep and loud, her weeping ceaseless for hours as she realized the real reason she was so attached to her husband, and so afraid of him dying. She simply didn't want to be alone again.

Now here she was, back where she started. Another place she didn't want to be in, with less coin than before and no clear idea of what to do next.

I can return to Solitude, she admitted to herself, and felt pangs of shame at how much the notion pleased her.

She lay down on the bed - their bed - for htelast time. Even if Thongvor sent assassins in the night, she didn't care. She hugged the furs where her husband had slept and clutched the coverings close, trying to inhale his scent.

Tomorrow, I leave at first light.

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